The best part of yesterday's Delta Sigma Theta concert at the Kennedy Center came right at the end, after Leontyne Price had received her fourth standing ovation. Returning to take her final bow, Price brought back two colleagues who had also been on the program, Lena Horne and Clamma Dale, to share the applause -- then Coretta Scott King came out, and the applause became deafening.
Purely as a concert, this 75th-anniversary celebration was an outstanding event. But its musical significance paled in comparison with the social force represented on that stage -- 125,000 organized, educated and highly dedicated women celebrating a distinguished past and looking at a challenging future.
Price concluded the program after receiving the sorority's Osceola Award for outstanding contributions to the performing arts. "My momma used to say, 'Use what you have,' " she said. "So I would like to sing my thanks for this extraordinary afternoon." She sang "Io son l'umile ancella" from "Adriana Lecouvreur" and "Vissi d'arte" from "Tosca," well-chosen statements about a singer's dedication to her art, and Louis White's "Praise Ye the Lord."
Price has retired from opera (though not from the recital stage), showing her usual good sense and leaving while she was still near the height of her powers. She might not feel the inclination or the strength for a whole evening of intense operatic effort, but for the span of these three works she still sounded like the greatest living soprano.
Clamma Dale's program began with one of Price's specialties, "Tacea la notte placida" from "Il trovatore," but from there ran the gamut: four songs of Richard Strauss, three winsome and stylistically varied songs by Arnold Scho nberg, a group by Poulenc that varied from deep seriousness to charming cabaret style, and a kaleidoscopic array of miscellaneous works that included Enoch Sontonga's beautiful "Prayer for Africa" and a moving finale on "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." She sang superbly and Gary Wedow supplied expert piano partnership.
The Howard University Choir, J. Weldon Norris conducting, performed a varied program with great expressiveness and flawless technique. The choral music ranged from classics of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven to a work song and three spirituals, with eight soloists from the chorus taking the spotlight impressively in various numbers.